I’m so incited, and I just can’t hide it!

by , September 9, 2009

Legal expressions, even those employed by the F.A., can sound so quaint. Nottingham Forest (and the other lot) are accused of “failing to control their players”, a charge that sounds like it should refer to parents and their unruly children. You have to remind yourself that these are grown men being talked about. And Robbie Savage.

It’s all a matter of semantics. In such situations, I often find a consultation with the dictionary enlightening. Incitement seems to be the name of the game at the moment, in the wake of the recent events. I discovered that the difference between ‘incite’ and ‘excite’ is not very clearly defined, both being about provoking action or reaction; odd, considering how unambiguous ‘include’ and ‘exclude’ are.

Is provoking reaction among supporters therefore now a crime for footballers? Footballers have been inciting me for years. And probably you as well. John Aldridge ruffling Brian Laws’ hair at Old Trafford in 1989 particularly springs to mind. But equally, so too have many of our own players. And not just those who felt their talents deserved a ‘bigger’ stage than the City Ground (yes, I’m thinking of you, Stanley, Roy, Pierre). Des Walker’s own goals, for example – untimely, rather than numerous, as they admittedly were – provoked memorable bouts of anguish.

Although I’m now the wrong side of 40, have a sensible job with a large statutory public body, drive a Ford Focus and no longer even live in England, never mind Nottingham, footballers in red shirts still incite me to shout, scream, leap up and down, and waste my Saturday afternoons glued to a radio. I’ve even been known to sw**r.

It’s a little embarrassing. But then I’ve always believed that supporting a football team – and not just Forest – shares something with fly-fishing, opera, the work of Damien Hirst, dogging and Blackpool (the holiday destination, rather than our soon-to-be opponents), in that if you need to have its appeal explained to you, you’re never going to get it.

Nathan Tyson, had he been able to detach his emotions and see the consequences dispassionately, might have chosen to act differently. But I imagine that after so long without a victory over our bitterest rivals (and Tyson has spent long enough at the club now to fully understand that rivalry), he just knew how much it mattered. Not to mention the relief of a first league win of the season. I do not imagine that his intention was to incite visiting sheep-lovers to commit atrocities – only he will know for sure, but I suspect if he had them on his mind at all, he just wanted them to know how good it felt. We all learned to gloat in the playground.

So what’s the big deal? Are the F.A. afraid that all supporters are incapable of knowing where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are? The events at Upton Park earlier in the week might suggest that they would be correct to do so, but anyone who knows anything about the tribes that attach themselves to football would understand that violence between West Ham and Millwall ‘fans’ did not require any on-the-field catalyst. Giving players guidelines about responsible victory celebrations is not going to eradicate events of that nature.

What footballers have never yet incited me to do is attack, injure, or kill any player or supporter of an opposing team, nor cause physical damage to their stadium. Football matters, but is, after all, just a game. If anything you could witness on a football field is likely to provoke such a reaction, you probably need a new hobby. Or a psychiatrist.